Principles of good policing

In recent days the media have carried stories that allude to excesses practiced by some police and immigration officers.

In the instance of the police, two individuals identified as plain clothed police officers fired indiscriminately into the air in an attempt to bring a fight and unruly bystanders under control.

The incident concerning immigration involved uniformed officers manhandling a permitted Haitian staff member of a telephone company’s road crew, detained allegedly because he was engaged in a job which, in the opinion of the immigration officers, should have been performed by a Bahamian.

These actions diminish the police and immigration branches of the service.

There can be no justification for placing the lives of bystanders in peril or for the disrespect of the rights of all persons.

It has been disappointing therefore to read in the newspapers statements attributed to the commissioner of police and the director of immigration on the separate matters but in each case seeking to excuse unacceptable behavior by officers under their charge.

We recommend to the commissioner and to the director the Nine Principles of Good Policing formulated in 1829 by the leaders of London’s Metropolitan Police Department. They remain relevant to all law enforcement agencies today.

These principles of policing relate to the prevention of crime and disorder.

They recognize that the power, functions and duties of the police depend on public approval and cooperation and further, that cooperation from the public diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and coercion.

They establish that in discharging their duties, law enforcement officers must demonstrate absolute impartial service to the law.

Law enforcement officers should use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public cooperation and in that case they should use only the minimum degree of physical force necessary on any particular occasion for achieving the objective.

Law enforcement officers are advised to maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police.

Similarly, law enforcement officers must always recognize the need to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.

Finally, the principles assert that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.

There was a time not so long ago when these principles visibly influenced the behavior of the leadership of Bahamian law enforcement.

Then, a Bahamian immigration officer, a close relative of the then sitting prime minister, was charged, convicted and incarcerated for the unjustifiable use of force in dealing with an arriving Jamaican visitor.

Today, the director of immigration seeks to cloak the poor and possibly illegal behavior of some of his officers, by maintaining that “on-duty officers have a lawful duty to perform in protecting the sovereignty of this nation”.

He appears to be oblivious to his larger responsibility to uphold all of the laws of the land including those that protect the rights of the individual which are enshrined in our constitution.

We are similarly disappointed by the commissioner excusing reckless behavior of plain clothed police firing indiscriminately into the air in an effort to gain control and manage a crowd.

Increasing numbers of individuals in the Bahamian community find themselves alienated from the police and from those in authority generally.

We strongly commend the 190-year old Principles of Good Policing for the consideration of the leadership of all uniformed law enforcement agencies in the country.

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